COAL: 1991 Honda Accord LX – A Game Changer

By 1991 I had been driving my ’89 Thunderbird for two years without too much in the way of trouble. I had even convinced my engineering co-op supervisor at the automotive supplier where I worked to get one for himself (despite the fact that his main account was with General Motors). However, as has been true throughout my automotive owning career, I was always up for something new. That “something new” would be about as far away from the Thunderbird as you can probably get, and it would have long-ranging impact on my car-buying habits as well as my parents.

My parents had always bought domestic vehicles: Fords, GMs, and the occasional Chrysler (including a pair of Cordobas in the ‘70s – no rich Corinthian leather for us, though). As I noted in my previous COAL, I had been interested in trying out something Japanese but couldn’t talk anyone into getting the Acura Integra I was considering because the dealers were too far away from Akron. In 1990 I tried to get my parents to consider purchasing this new $35k Japanese luxury sedan that had just been introduced, but no luck there either as that dealer was also too far away. My parents bought a 1990 Lincoln Continental (the Taurus-based one) for that same $35k instead of the Japanese luxury sedan I was pushing, which happened to be the first Lexus LS400. At least I tried…

Come 1991, however, one of my father’s coworkers told him that the local Honda dealer in Akron was offering some great lease deals on new Accords like the one he had just purchased. Knowing that I’d been interested in Japanese vehicles, my father asked if we should go and take a look and I agreed we should. My father had just gotten into leasing with that ’90 Lincoln (which cost over $700 per month in 1990 dollars) so he was open to another lease instead of conventional financing.

In the mid-to-late 80s most Honda dealers weren’t the place to visit if you wanted to get a deal. Hondas had been so popular that many dealers were in “take it or leave it” mode. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the local dealer was pretty helpful and willing to offer some really low lease payments on Accords (in the $250/month range if I recall correctly). It helped that the salesman my father’s coworker recommended was not a career car salesperson but rather a former principal from one of the local school districts who was selling Hondas to amuse himself in retirement.

On the downside, we were getting to the dealer at the end of the Honda promotion and the dealer had set aside only a portion of the inventory for the promotion. Dreams of an Accord EX with sunroof, alloy wheels, and all the goodies went out the window – the only car left was a four-door Accord LX, in refrigerator white. Not exactly optimal, but I was willing to take it for a spin (at least it was a manual transmission car). I was fortunate – my father’s colleague had picked up an Accord DX with black bumpers and mirrors (only driver mirror) and manual windows/locks. The LX was pretty posh in comparison.

Having never driven a Japanese sedan previously, and indeed having never driven any car that was this small, light, and nimble, the driving experience was quite a surprise to me. This generation of Accord still had the double wishbone front suspension that received high praise from the automotive magazines. The greenhouse was expansive and the dashboard quite low so visibility was great. The 5-speed manual transmission was light and precise, a vast change from the stiff and heavy manual transmission in the Thunderbird.

Although the car only had a bit more than half the horsepower of the SC (125 total), it was still quite quick for the day. Given how easily I found myself in trouble with the SC, it was probably just as well. By this time, no Accords came with carburetors (my interest in the top-of-the-line Accords stemmed partly from previous years where they were the only ones that came with fuel injection). The car was assembled very well, too – the salesman made a point of telling us that the trunk didn’t need to be slammed but could gently be pushed shut. I was certainly feeling optimistic about this car, particularly since it was so inexpensive. Better gas mileage would be great, too – I was traveling quite a bit as a co-op student between Akron and Sandusky and that SC wasn’t going to win any economy runs.

Honda Accord dash

The car was available, we liked it, and the price was right – as with many car deals, my father got them to throw in “mats and flaps” as he put it (floormats and mudflaps were things he liked to have). We had to pay extra to add a Honda CD player, but as a music obsessed college student that was a must-buy that my Thunderbird didn’t have. So we took it home and my father took over the SC (which may have been his plan all along).

Luckily for me, I didn’t have much of a “cool guy” image to keep up, so the switch from the SC to the Accord didn’t damage my reputation. Admittedly, I’d have liked alloy wheels instead of the plastic wheelcovers, and white wouldn’t have been my first choice, but I could live with it, especially since it was so fun to drive. Sufficiently fun to drive, in fact, that I got pulled over for speeding on the Ohio Turnpike not long after I got it (of course, two years of doing dumb things in a hot Ford without trouble, but 10 mph over on the Turnpike in a four-wheeled refrigerator and I get nabbed). One warning and some sheepish “yes, officer” discussions later, I was back on my way. (I can still remember which CD I was listening to when I got pulled over – odd what stays with you all these years later).

Other CC’ers have done a superb job of detailing the benefits and quirks of this particular generation of Accord, so I will simply note that this Accord certainly kept up the reputation of being rock-solid-reliable. The only issues that cropped up were some rattles associated with the seatbelts (1991 was the last year for the “mouse” belts – in ’92 driver airbags appeared and the mouse belts were relegated to the history books for Accords). A few trips to the dealer cleared those up, but not without some hassles (rattles are notoriously difficult to fix). I got to spin a few wrenches, too – nothing major, just adding an accessory center console armrest (oddly, the car didn’t come standard with one).

Although the car was reliable, durable, and enjoyable to drive, it wasn’t particularly memorable overall. Other than the aforementioned speeding incident, the car never got me into trouble. It fit in well in the parking lots at the University of Akron and didn’t draw attention to itself so I never had any problems with break-ins. I was much less fussy about the Accord than I was about the Thunderbird – I never let my girlfriend (now wife) drive the Thunderbird at all, but was happy to lend her the Accord when she needed it. It served me well, and came with me when I graduated from the University of Akron, got married, and moved to Maryland. For the first six months we lived here in Maryland it was our only car – it never let us down. (We decided not to bring my wife’s orange ’78 Mercury Zephyr with the 3.3 liter straight six with us – that car was so underpowered as to be frankly terrifying to drive in traffic around here.)

Looking back through my files to prepare this COAL, I realized that it was the only car I ever owned that I never photographed. It doesn’t even appear in the background of any other family photos from the time. The Akron dealer where I bought the car photographed every new car in front of the dealership and gave the new owner a laminated card with the car photo on the front and the car and dealer information (VIN, dealer phone number, warranty expiration, etc.) on the back. I believe I still have the card somewhere, but seven house moves across two states over a quarter-century of time mean that it has eluded my best efforts to find it. Luckily the Curbside Classic family has already found and photographed an example in white that was exactly like mine, save for a red interior instead of my car’s blue one.

I mentioned that this Honda was a “game changer” of sorts for us. It didn’t take long for my parents to begin driving the Accord and preferring it over my mother’s Lincoln or the SC (my mother didn’t drive stick, so she never drove it – “I don’t have three feet for the three pedals” was her response to manual transmissions). The car made such an impression on them that within a year both Ford products were gone and Hondas replaced them. My mother got the Accord EX coupe that I had originally wanted, and my father picked up a Prelude. Once Akron got its own Acura dealer, my parents began buying that brand as well. To the end of their lives, they bought nothing else but Hondas.

As for me, it started me on the Japanese car path, but I did step away from that path several times, sometimes with great results and sometimes with not-so-great results, as the Curbside Classic readership will see soon. When it came time for the Accord to move on (and for me to purchase my first car without any parental assistance), my choice was conventional and, some might say, a step backward…